The Presidential Debate

There is reality then there is the perception of that reality. Maybe all is bubble and foam, and that includes analysis of Presidential debates – there is no such thing as it being value free.

The debate can be watched in full here.

Body language says it all

Body language says it all

On that note, the fact that some call it for McCain, some call it for Obama, and the majority call it a dead heat is not as important as how the electorate perceived the debate they saw. On that note the polls suggest that Obama came out on top.

CBS Insta Poll shows Barack Obama won 39% to John McCain‘s 25% with 36% saying the debate was a draw.

Insider Advantage reports of those polled Obama won 42% to McCain’s 41% with Undecided 17%

CNN reports voter opinions that Obama “did better” 51%, McCain “did better” 38%

The CNN poll showed men were evenly split, but women gave Obama higher marks 59% to 41% for McCain.

Obama came across with authority,  prepared to  commit strikes in Pakistan. McCain was the one sounding like you need to build allies and not distance them from their own people. Obama retorting that lacked credibility from some one that sang bomb Iran.

McCain however came across as someone assured that he knew what he was doing on the world stage, while Obama came across as knowing how to say his message fro change. McCain though made the play of his experience in the Senate. The difference however was that Obama looked like the change canidate while McCain had the record for partisanship and with Palin a challenge to the usual Washington politic.

Here is just a sample of scorecards on the two candidates. The scores assigned to the candidates represent the BBC’s interpretation of the writers’ comments. One star indicates a poor performance, five stars an excellent one. :

Writer Verdict McCain score Obama score
Matthew Yglesias, Think Progress “All things considered, it’s about a draw. McCain got a couple of good punches in and so did Obama. Insofar as the idea is supposed to be that McCain has a domineering advantage on national security he certainly didn’t prove that point. And for the candidate who’s losing, a tie amounts to a loss.” *** ***
Jim Geraghty, The National Review Barack Obama failed in his main task – looking ready to take over on 20 January. His answers were halting early on and he “let his irritation / exasperation / disbelief” show, “it wasn’t quite the right tone”. Anyone wavering on McCain will have been “reassured a great deal”. In that sense it was a “major win” for him. **** *
Kos, The Daily Kos Barack Obama was very effective. He proved he as well-versed on foreign leaders and countries, despite Mr McCain’s continuous attacks that “Senator Obama doesn’t understand / doesn’t get it”. The debate “reinforced Obama’s fitness to be president”. This was not a loss McCain needed bearing in mind his “lagging” poll numbers. * ****
Ezra Klein, The American Prospect “I haven’t seen any poll or focus group that scored it for McCain. So Obama won. But… McCain was certainly more impassioned… His emotion, his passion, came from a nearly uncontrollable contempt for his opponent… He did an extremely good stylistic job in an extremely hard situation.” *** ****
Arianna Huffington, The Huffington Post A good night for both candidates. “Final verdict: McCain back from the dead, but not nearly enough to seize the momentum in a ‘change’ election… after the dust has settled, the economy will still be in free fall, McCain will still be the guy who 10 days ago thought the fundamentals of the economy are strong, and 83% of the country will still be looking for a change in direction.” *** ****
Hugh Hewitt, It was a “strong McCain win”. He shined and put Barack Obama on the defensive. Obama “stumbled” on Iraq, Pakistan and Afghanistan. McCain’s closing remarks, when he hit Obama for his stubborness, were “very strong”. **** *
Michael Tomasky, The Guardian “I’ve never been quite this confused about a debate in a long time… I thought each acquitted himself well on the other fellow’s terrain… I don’t think Obama’s win, if that’s what it was, was so decisive that the McCain team can’t reverse spin it.” *** ***
Gideon Rachman, Financial Times The exchanges on the financial crisis were “feeble in the extreme”. McCain “became noticeably more confident and coherent, once the discussion switched to foreign policy”. Obama was “relaxed, coherent and showed flashes of humour” and overall performed well. *** ****

Obama certainly gave crisp clear answers, rather than ones that seemed to try to bear in all the complexities of the issues that you kind of forgot what the question was. Polls indicate that when McCain went for the attack on Obama, support went down across the board. The CNN focus group this comes from suggests that McCain’s body language (looking away from Obama) did not play well, compared to Obama who looked directly at his opponent.

The big problem was that Obama seemed ready for office, he looked like a Presidential contender. I tried listening to the debate without visual. McCain came across better, but strangely the age difference between the candidates seemed more marked in their voice then in their appearance. Obama, youthful but assured. McCain experienced, but old and the clink of thoughts retrieved.

In short I would call the debate all things to all partisans – but in reality both men did well. Neither gave a knock out blow. But McCain needs to talk up why he should be commander in chief and lead the world’s biggest economy in global financial meltdown. Attacking his opponent does not seem to be working.

The bigger concern was that neither man seemed up to the task of grappling with the problems in the global economy. That, rather than foreign affairs, seems to be at the heart of American concerns. The only thing saving them is no one has a solid plan, and events rather then clear heads are leading the animal spirits let loose in the global community.

So who do I call it for? Well McCain did well in coming across as a man of experience. He could so easily have killed himself. His problem though is that Obama has grown, and in some ways Hillary Clinton may have to be thanked for that. Because without that tight race Obama may not have developed. He sounds like he has made it, he is not faking it. He is ready to be President.

If that holds up, then the McCain bounce that I think will come later in the campaign may have trouble overcoming an Obama lead. But there is still much left to go. Both sides can claim their man won, but in reality Obama was ahead by a whisker in a close to call debate. That however means that McCain is still going to stay where he is in the polls. His campaign needs him to start narrowing the lead, for a late surge to make victory possible.


The Second Presidential Debate – no second coming for McCain


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